For Immediate Release
Given the short time, high cost and the low turnout of pilgrims for 2024 Hajj, Independent Hajj Reporters – a civil society that monitors and reports hajj activities in Nigeria has appealed to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and the Private Hajj Operators to quickly find a common ground on the ongoing disagreement over list of approved tour operators.
The disagreement if not quickly resolved may affect the numbers of 2024 intending pilgrims as well as the operational structure in the hajj industry.
IHR gave the advice in a statement signed by its national coordinator Ibrahim Muhammad on Monday and made available to newsmen.
“It will be recalled that NAHCON had released a list of 110 Private Hajj operators screened by the commission for participation in 2024 Hajj. Prior to this, Saudi Arabia has directed all hajj participating countries to reduce the number of Private hajj operators to 10.
“The Saudis later reviewed the number to 40 for Nigeria. NAHCON was compelled to introduce new criteria to trim the 110 companies to 40 with a view to allow others to merge with the approved 40 companies whose names will be forwarded to Saudi Arabia,” the CSO said.
IHR also said some tour operators whose names are on the initial list of 110 released by NAHCON are alleging favouritism – saying some companies among the 40 listed by NAHCON are not qualified for such considerations.
This unproven allegation infuriated NAHCON which later suspended allocating Hajj slots to private tour operators and halted their activities altogether.
In a statement shared by the commission, NAHCON said “in commitment to transparency and integrity, NAHCON has decided to suspend further activities related to the allocation of Hajj seats to the PTOs for the next 48 hours. This decision comes in light of recent accusations leveled by some PTOs unable to meet the required pass mark. The Commission is fully aware that there may be dissenting voices which have expectedly begun to manifest”.
While we understand the importance of regulatory oversight and compliance as undertaken by NAHCON, we also believe that it is not right for the commission to have publicly suspended the pre hajj activities and allocation of hajj slots to the 40 Tour Operators irrespective of allegations made by some Tour Operators because doing so amounts to ‘admitting’ error of judgement in the lists especially given the extremely tight schedules in the 2024 hajj calendar.
Those who made the allegations could have been isolated and their allocation withheld while allowing others to continue with their 2024 Hajj activities.
Tour Operators are allocated 20,000 pilgrims while States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards share 75,000 seats. Currently, states are yet to register up to 25,000 pilgrims. Freezing the process of early registering of possible additional 15,000 to 20,000 pilgrims to boost the numbers of 2024 intending pilgrims may not be ideal at this time.
Private Hajj Operators has a great role to play due to the low turnout in the registration of pilgrims for 2024 hajj in the states. Their clients may not find it difficult to pay the current proposed hajj fare thereby increasing the number of pilgrims if the right marketing strategy is deployed.
On the other hand, Private Hajj Operators should also appreciate that the number of companies have been increased to 40 from the initial 10 by Saudi Arabia and they therefore, need to unite ranks instead of raising unnecessary dust. They could have written to NAHCON as individuals or under AHUON to raise their observations with verifiable proof.
Private Hajj Operators cannot be blaming NAHCON for doing their assigned roles of regulation or making unsubstantiated allegations against their colleagues when they fail to adhere to laid down regulations prescribed by the Apex Hajj Regulatory body in Nigeria.
However, IHR said it is worried by the recent statement by NAHCON saying that it “will soon conclude investigations into complaints received in response to its call for petitions against any of the Private Tour Operators approved to convey pilgrims for 2024 Hajj under the private sector”.
The statement further added that it would be recalled that on 13th of December, NAHCON announced the temporary suspension of Hajj slot allocations to tour operators. This decision signaled a commitment to fairness and equity following grievances from certain quarters. Until the inquiry is concluded, NAHCON will withhold further actions, with updates to be communicated publicly once the process is finalized”.
IHR said it is extremely worried that the interpretative meaning of this statement will further create operational bottlenecks especially when the statement came after NAHCON had released the list of approved companies to the general public.
“We call on all concerned to forge a common ground in the interest of intending pilgrims as any operational friction within the hajj managers will have spiral negative effects in the entire hajj operation that will definitely affect service delivery to our dear pilgrims”.
Independent Hajj Reporters
25th December, 2023